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Practicing Permaculture in the City

permaculture in the city

[Milkwood PDC course outing with David Holmgren in Sydney, photo by Oliver Holmgren]

With more Singaporeans learning about permaculture, many wonder if a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) is relevant to them and how we can practice permaculture in the city given most of us live in apartments.

In my previous post featuring reviews on PDC courses in Southeast Asia and Australia, I mentioned that the PDC is highly relevant if you wish to design a farm or any kind of space for growing crops because it is a design course. The course is currently not available in Singapore, and I would suggest getting acquainted with the ethics and principles of permaculture first, before deciding if you wish to proceed. You can even do an online Intro to Permaculture course like the one offered here (it started on 1 May but it looks like one can still enrol).

So how can we practice permaculture in the city, where it’s also relevant to apartment dwellers? In permaculture, the aim is to create a holistic design system for managing an ecosystem in harmony with nature, and can be scaled down to suit the size of our balcony, corridor, rooftop, courtyard, or backyard garden/s.

Garden Stories: Natural Farmer & Permaculturist Mr Tang Hung Bun

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Meet Mr Tang Hung Bun, a joyful, down-to-earth and all-round lovely gentleman. An avid nature lover and experienced permaculturist, Mr Tang is a former physics teacher, and has co-authored a book titled “A photographic guide to the dragonflies of Singapore“. He has since retired from teaching to focus on his passion of farming. He now volunteers with Farmily, a social enterprise which works with senior citizens through farming naturally-grown, pesticide- and chemical-free produce, it is also the farming arm of non-profit group, Ground-Up Initiative (GUI).

I first learned of Mr Tang through his blog, where he shared a soul-crushing video of his established permaculture food forest destroyed by heavy machinery. His landlord decided to lease the land that he rented to a developer, and what he had created in almost two years was demolished in three days. I would later hear my urban farmer friend, Ong Chun Yeow, mention Mr Tang in many of our conversations, and it took me quite a while to make the connection that he was that same person.

I had the immense fortune of meeting him during my visit to Kampung Kampus, and he gave me an impromptu tour of a permaculture garden that he and other volunteers had been working on since mid-January this year, after a few of them discovered a small, temporarily unused plot on the premises. Here is a video of that plot before and after Mr Tang and other Farmily volunteers worked on it. Incredible and inspiring. One of the remarkable things about this garden is that they do not water it.

As you can see from the video, he grows wintermelon, eggplants, roselle, taro, chilli, currant tomatoes, okra, winged beans and bittergourds. Some of these edible plants are intercropped with marigolds, a wonderful companion plant, and the garden features several pigeon pea plants, a shrub favoured by permaculturists for its nitrogen fixing qualities and as “chop and drop” material, there is also a neem tree, which is also a nitrogen fixer, and has many medicinal properties, its small branches can be used as a natural toothbrush.

It was such a pleasure to spend time with Mr Tang. Please read on to find out more about him and his interesting perspectives!

Garden Stories: Alexius Yeo of Project 33

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It was a real treat to pop by Alexius Yeo’s place. The permaculture educator and practitioner turned his backyard into a productive vegetable urban farm and started a tightly knit gardening community called Project 33, named such because of his house number, and also it began as an initiative to give 33% of their produce to foster community spirit.

A while ago, he had a pair of hens but they would dig up his garden and undo the hard work he had accomplished. I took in his hens, but while I loved having them, they didn’t get along with my existing flock, and I had to return them to him after AVA came knocking when a neighbour complained about too much noise in the morning. I learnt later that they had found a veteran chicken enthusiast to care for them.

I met Alexius when he was still working at Edible Garden City, but only got to know him better after he had left his chickens in my care. These days, he teaches nature-based educational programmes to schools. Incidentally, our mothers are good friends and ex-colleagues, and I found out after overhearing my mother’s conversation with his mother about our backyards turning into farms.

Alexius is one of a growing number of people moving towards an urban homestead lifestyle in Singapore. Other than the monthly Project 33 meetings at his home, which centres around a potluck and gardening workshop and/or activity, he teaches gardening classes like organic pest management, creating a herb garden, and building soil. His well landscaped backyard farm includes a wide variety of herbs and Asian vegetables, some fruit trees – even a Chinese date plant, and ornamental plants. In addition, he has a lovely pond with fish and a free range tortoise, a really nice green space to relax.

Be sure to pay him a visit sometime!